Research Point – Straw in Fashion

I have spent time looking at current fashions as part of this project, and I have noticed that straw and weaving are very big this spring/summer, especially for Burberry who have developed their whole range around it. Other fashion houses have incorporated straw and weaving into their hats and handbags, or as accessories in advertising other products. Of course we are used to seeing straw hats and the coarse texture of espadrilles, but we are seeing woven straw uppers on heels too.

With this in mind, and having attended a handbag teaching day earlier this year, I thought it would be interesting to see what straw hats are actually made from, and in line with a previous blogpost, country of origin.

Looking at our own summer hats, they were labelled generically as ‘straw’ or ‘paper’, and where country of origin was in the label, it was unsurprisingly from China. I found the website www.hatsuk.com which has a very useful summary of materials used in manufacture.

Traditionally, straw hats are constructed in one of two ways. Firstly, by coiling up woven plaits of straw, sewing them in place and then steaming the hat into shape. This is how a traditional British boater would be made. The second way is to weave the straw like a basket into a hood shape, starting at the crown, and again steam the hat into shape. Whilst more expensive hats can be made from a hard wearing natural fibre called sisal, jute, wheat or rush; hats from China are more likely to be Xian. This is a popular type of seagrass that can be bleached and stiffened. Other popular beach hat materials are paper panama from Japanese toyo paper which can be dyed, or Madagascan raffia. Panama hats were traditionally made with straw from Ecuador, but are now commonly made with Chinese bleached palm fibre, which can be bleached white or dyed in pastel shades.

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